The Washington State Board of Education wants schools to do away with their Warriors, Braves and Redskins mascots.
The board passed a resolution that encourages local school districts to “remove biased, derogatory, or inflammatory mascots, logos, names, and symbols from their schools.”
Many schools in Washington have voluntarily given up their Native mascots, including Eatonville Middle School, which went from being the Warriors to the Eagles. Eisenhower Middle School in Everett also dropped its Warriors images. They are now the Patriots. But there are dozens who still use the mascots, which they believe honor Native American tribes.
Port Townsend is one of the high schools in Washington that uses the nickname “Redskins.”
The school’s population is about two percent American Indian or Alaskan Native, according to the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office. About 84 percent of the student population is white.
Port Townsend’s community has already been studying the idea of changing their mascot.
A seven-member committee is exploring the issue and will present a report at a board meeting later this month.
A former Port Townsend High School mascot urges the school to drop the Redskins name in a letter he sent to the district superintendent in July, and in an editorial he wrote for the local newspaper.
“As a senior, I served as the Redskins mascot. Although I wore the Indian costume to assemblies and football games, I hated the head piece. It was a truly awful caricature: braided black hair, giant almond eyes, and a protruding, gnarled nose,” writes Robert Tsai.
He wore a Redskins mascot uniform, like the one pictured left, for Port Townsend High during the 1988-89 school year.
“The difficulty with the term ‘Redskins’ is that it perpetuates an outdated, and to many, a derogatory stereotype of Native Americans,” he writes in the letter to Superintendent David Engle. “Instead, it is a part of popular vernacular that arose primarily among the white population, used to refer to the American Indian population generally.”
Tsai, now a law professor at American University, concludes, “Today, the word connotes fierceness or bravery to some, but to othersâ€™ ears, it is no different from ‘yellow skins’ or ‘darkies’ or ‘red necks.'”
Chief Sealth, the Seattle high school named for Chief Seattle, a Duwamish chief, doesn’t even use a Native mascot. They’re the Seahawks.
The Native American mascot controversy also came up in Oregon this year.
In May, the Oregon State Board of Education voted to ban Native American mascots, nicknames and logos from eight of its high schools. The schools have Oregon five years to comply. If they don’t they could lose state funding.
I talked to a tribal leader in Oregon about the ban there and she thought it was “another form of disrespect” to Native American culture.
“It’s easier to ban Native American images than it is to deal with the real issue,” says Shiobhan Taylor, a spokesperson for Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
“The Board of Education needs to put their energy and their attention and their talent into making sure that the curriculum our children have in our school system teaches the accurate story of Oregon’s tribes. Our children unfortunately just don’t get that.”
Most of what students learn about Indigenous people begins and ends with the Plains Indians, she says. They’re an archetype in literature and art for American Indians everywhere. There are nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon and 27 in Washington.
The Washington Board of Education’s request to change Indian mascots does not come with a financial threat if the schools don’t adopt new non-Native symbols for their schools and sports teams.
Is it ridiculous to ban Native American mascots in a state where we have many cities and landmarks are named after Northwest tribes? Or is it about time to do away with all Native depictions for schools and sports teams in Washington?
By LINDA THOMAS
Photos, Port Townsend High School sweatshirt with mascot, as sold through the ASB student store. Port Townsend High School mascot, circa 1990, from Robert Tsai.